Missoula, in western Montana, is home to huge granite walls, limestone slabs, frozen waterfalls, and a community full of climbers that make it the perfect location for tons of rock and ice climbing.
- Conquer some big wall in Blodgett Canyon.
- Rattler Creek is a great spot for beginners.
- Hyalite Canyon is an ice-climbing mecca with over 130 routes.
- Want to start rock climbing and don't know where to start, grab a guide and let them lead the way.
The glacially formed, granite mountains around Missoula offer some top notch sport, trad, aid and ice climbing. The plethora of routes are perfect for all levels of climbing. Climbing is yoga on a wall, stretch your body and challenge your muscles as you ascend up the rock. Defy gravity and climb up frozen cascading waterfalls.
When the weather just won't let you climb outdoors, check out the two indoor gyms. Once you try rock or ice climbing, you too may be hooked.
Where to go Climbing around Missoula
There is a ton of rock around Missoula. These are just a few places to get you started. Missoula is the starting point for all directions.
- Blodgett Canyon
Welcome to big wall climbing! Blodgett is home to 1,200 foot, granite walls and some of the best climbing in the area. Some sport climbing, but you'll need double the trad gear to make it to the top. These longer pitches require two ropes. Parking Lot Wall is the easiest to access, take a guess why, and offers 5.7 to 5.13 routes with plenty of bolts. Take Hwy 93 south to Hamilton. You will cross the silver bridge over the Bitterroot River and the road will be on your right. Follow the signs to Blodgett Canyon. In case you just can't pull yourself from this addicting wall, there is a great, well maintained campground.
- Kootenai Canyon
Tucked in the majestic Bitterroot Mountains, Kootenai Canyon offers tons of routes along its huge granite walls, boasting a large range of climbs for all levels and a nice combination of sport and trad climbing. Check out the 1st Buttress, a great place to settle in, with over 20 routes ranging from 5.6 to 5.13a. This is one of Missoula's most popular climbing areas. Just 30 miles south of Missoula on Hwy 93 south, look for the sign for Kootenai Canyon. From the trailhead it can be a bit tricky to find the access trail to the wall, so just stay on the main trail until you reach the first buttress.
- Mulkey Gulch
Over 30 climbs are found at Mulkey Gulch. The Madison Limestone tends to be slabby and technical offering a number of fins and crags. Most lines are bolted, but some great trad exists as well. To get started check out Mulkey Tower's 13 routes ranging from 5.8 to 5.11a. For a much larger challenge, skip over to Mulkey Man Area, where you will find technical and challenging routes with shallow pockets and 5.10d to 5.13a routes. Located 45 miles east of Missoula off I-90 east. Take the Bearmouth exit (138) and follow the frontage road for roughly 10 miles.
- Rattler Gulch
Rattler Gulch is great for beginners. This is the first limestone to be developed in the area. Offers more sport then trad. Start at Sidewinder Buttress for a 5.4 beginner route or warm up on the three 5.8 routes. This large and very obvious triangular face is visible from the road. Located past Mulkey Gulch. Take I-90 east to the Bearmouth exit and follow the frontage road for 13 miles
- The Heap
Smaller then a lot of areas with only eight bolted routes, The Heap is also a great place to start with routes ranging from 5.6 to 5.9. Take Hwy 93 south to Lolo. Turn on Hwy 12 west, once you pass Lolo Hot Springs take a left on East Fork Lolo Creek. You will see a huge boulder in the creek. Offers a great spot for camping.
- Mill Creek Canyon
Mill Creek is not for beginners or those who may be unprepared. Don't leave your helmet at home as the fine rock is known for crumbling and crashing onto those below. Featuring high quality sport routes the climbing is exposed and difficult. You will need two ropes. Ticks are common. Located one canyon north of Blodgett. Take Hwy 93 south and turn into the canyon on the west side of the road, found right before you reach Hamilton. There will be a sign.
- Lost Horse
Looking for a bit of bouldering, Lost Horse is your place. A multitude of large granite boulders line the valley floor. A great place to practice some crag climbing. Take Hwy 93 south, approximately 15 miles south of Hamilton. Look for the signs for Lost Horse Canyon.
Grab your crampons and ax and hit the ice. Western Montana, with its rugged mountains and cold winters provides some great winter ice climbing.
- Blodgett Canyon
This summer climbing stop transforms into a icy wonderland in the winter. Perfect for a bit of ice climbing. If a cold snap hits the valley, look out for the crowds. Take Hwy 93 south to Hamilton. You will cross the silver bridge over the Bitterroot River and the road will be on your right. Follow the signs to Blodgett Canyon.
- Mission Falls
When waterfalls freeze, you get fantastic ice climbing. This popular location has a long, steep approach, but you will be amply compensated with the huge wall of ice that greets you at your destination. Also, good for beginners. Make sure to obtain a tribal permit. Located north of Missoula, take Hwy 93 north to I-90 west to St. Ignatius. Turn right at old Hwy 93 north and a left on St. Mary's Lake Rd, follow this until you are on Foothill Rd. Take this to Mission Dam Rd and take a right, follow this to the trailhead. Hike until you see a huge wall of ice.
- Hyalite Canyon
This ice-climbing mecca is about three hours east of Missoula, but well worth the rip. Over 130 routes, some of the best early season access, and a high concentration of ice makes Hyalite a must do for all ice climbers. You should have access as early as the second week of November all the way through most of April. Take I-90 east, to Bozeman. Take 19th St. south out of Bozeman to the Hyalite Canyon turnoff (look for the big brown sign). Continue on over the dam and take the right fork in the road, the main fork. Most climbs are located on this fork. Check for road closures due to weather.
Rock and ice climbing are great sports, but they are a bit gear heavy, even for beginners. If you are looking to get started, rent a pair of shoes and a harness. Check with your climbing partner to see if more gear is required. Always go with someone that knows the ropes before venturing out on your own. The same can be said for ice climbing.
Luckily, Missoula climbing is very popular and the outdoor gear stores are ready to help you. Stop in and let them set you up with the right gear, so that you have a fantastic day on the rock or ice.
Hire a Guide
If you don't know anyone in the area or are looking to get into climbing, hiring a guide is a great way to get started. Let them take care of all the details, while you enjoy the sights and the climb. Prices vary according to your needs, so check with a couple local outfitters before choosing your guide.
There is an inherent risk to strapping yourself in a harness and climbing up rock and ice. Just to name a few easy ways to take precaution, make sure you know how to properly use your equipment, tie safety knots, how to clip in properly, and belay safely.
In addition, always check the weather. You would hate to be anchored to a rock with metal bolts during a thunderstorm or be hit by an avalanche in the winter.